‘Chroma’ is the Greek word for colour.

When we talk about colour, chroma is the word used to discuss the intensity of a given colour; its brightness in relation to white. For example, pastels possess a lower chroma than neon or fluorescent colours do; pastels being washed out versions of a given hue on the colour wheel and neons being amplified versions.

Albert Munsell published A Color Notation in 1905. He instructed his students to organize colour according to a decimal system because he felt that names were too arbitrary a way of measuring the spectrum of colour we perceive. I'm curious about whether categorizing and talking about colour according to a decimal system, would radically change the spiritual mystery of colour. As you can see in the diagram below, the colour system is not a perfect sphere but has some irregularities. One thing Munsell noted was that light yellow has a chroma higher than light purple. He deduced that there is more chromatic possibility in colours which are closer to white (or ‘highly transmitting’ colours) in hue (red to violet) and value (light, or white, to dark, or black), irrespective of how they may appear to possess similar chroma.

Munsell's early colour 'sphere'; it was acknowledged later that the colours we can perceive cannot be put into a perfect sphere.

Munsell's early colour 'sphere'; it was acknowledged later that the colours we can perceive cannot be put into a perfect sphere.

A re-design of Munsell's colour ordering system, which takes into account the inability of all the colours we perceive to fit into one smooth sphere.

A re-design of Munsell's colour ordering system, which takes into account the inability of all the colours we perceive to fit into one smooth sphere.

My studies on colour evolved organically as a result of my art practice and were intensified during an internship working for a textile artist in the Netherlands, where I worked with natural dyes. While there I discovered Rudolf Steiner's writings on colour and was introduced to the idea of anthroposophy (that humans possess inherently or intuitively the knowledge of the natural world and that we are in harmony if we choose to open ourselves to it). Steiner writes of colour as an everyday magic central to being. All that we perceive has colour because of the light which shows it to us. Colours change with the light, but we as humans can communicate similarities; that some phenomena are blue, others are yellow, etc. The tones we perceive may not be exactly the same, but through our eyes, through our consciousness, colours exist and reflect our existence back at us. I've heard and agree with the supposition that in common conversation we rely on around thirty words to speak of colour, though there are millions of colours around us- a quick Google search just informed me that we can (on average) perceive about ten million colours.

Colour theory goes further than just to assert the existence of colour. It purports relationships between colour and feeling, colour and the physical body, colour and psychology. Those familiar with the Ayurvedic chakra system will recognize that it follows the UV light spectrum we perceive (red-violet), and that it ascribes links between colours and different areas of the body as well as different areas of the spirit.

There is no orthodox system of colour. Various doctrines exist and can be considered. However the feelings reported have commonalities and those commonalities interest me. Why is yellow associated with a feeling of energy, memory (think of yellow notepaper and yellow highlighters) and optimism? Why do people say blue is serene but that it can also transmit a feeling of endlessness and solitude? Red is linked to sexuality (although orange is the colour associated with reproductive organs in ayurvedic medicine) and to survival (red is the base colour we perceive in the spectrum of light); ayurvedic thought ties it to the legs and also the pelvic region. Next time you are walking around a supermarket, search for the predominant colour- apparently red's link to survival is used frequently in food packaging to convey urgency to the consumer. Violet, the highest colour in the spectrum, is supposed to bring one into contact with universal values. Purple was the colour of royalty, perhaps as a means of legitimating power (relying on existing language of colour), but more likely because over time it came to represent power to the viewer/subject as purple dye was rare and expensive.

White reflects outwardly all colour which touches it (white light contains all of the colours on the spectrum we perceive); black absorbs but does not reflect colour, it is the absence of colour. I know someone who won’t wear black on her body, she finds it inauspicious. However black clothing offers a strong silhouette because the shape of the garment is what becomes most noticeable rather than the hue. Wearing black is also said to strengthen another colour worn with it, for example a blue pendant will appear brighter against black than it will against white. Its chroma is higher in relation to black.

I am interested in the therapeutic as well as aesthetic value of colour; to be able to harness the power of colour to heal and balance and provide positive experiences. I use a lot of colour in my work and studying its potential is pushing my colour sensibilities in new directions. I recently read something about a tetrachromat, someone who sees many, many more colours than the average person. Wouldn't you like to see as she does? Do you think it's a different experience of living?